Thursday, 23 March 2017

Letterbox Lab Science Subscription Box - A Review

A few months ago a group of scientists visited my daughter's school and showed her class some fun experiments which really captured her attention. She developed a love for science there and then, and was keen straight after to show me some scientific experiments at home.

For her birthday last October, I purchased a giant science kit from the local toy shop that featured over 50 experiments. When she opened it however, we were disappointed to find that what the box actually contained was several pieces of equipment, an instruction booklet, and a shopping list of over 40 additional items that needed to be purchased! Had we gone out and bought everything on the list it would have cost over £120 which is ridiculous and needless to say, the box was soon packed away in the cupboard, where it is has remained ever since.

My daughter was understandably disappointed by this, so whilst looking online for some science experiments that we could do at home using products we were already likely to have, I accidentally stumbled across a company called Letterbox Lab. The name of the brand immediately caught my attention, and so I looked a little further into what the company offered. 

Letterbox Lab is a newly launched subscription box service, that can be purchased on a no-commitment monthly basis. It is the creation of Dr Bryan Hatton and Mia Hatton, who both run Hatton Science Communication Ltd, and they have clearly put a lot of thought into both the design and contents of the product. Each box contains full easy to follow instructions, and the experiments are all cleverly linked together as a story.

There are two choices available, the first of which is the Explore Box which is aimed at children aged 6+ and the second one is the Investigate Box which is suitable for children 8+. The boxes fit through most letterboxes making delivery of the product easy, but the best thing about Letterbox Lab is that each box contains everything you need (excluding the kitchen sink of course). This means no more disappointed faces when you don't have a particular item in your kitchen cupboard, no trips to the chemist having to spend more money, and no huge shopping lists! The kits are packed full of science experiments for kids, which not only offer fun, but a learning experience too.

Subscription boxes have seen a rapid increase in their popularity these past couple of years, with new ideas appearing on the market all the time, but this one really appealed to both me and my daughter. It was exactly what I had wanted for Emma, and so the company kindly agreed to send one of their Investigate Boxes out to us, to review prior to the official launch on the 18th April.

We received an email a few days later confirming that our box was on it's way, and sure enough a couple of days later my daughter was delighted to see the beautifully designed box waiting for her with the post on her return home from school. The outside of the box is visually eye catching with an array of scientific images displayed all over the purple background. 

The centre of the box features the large Letterbox Lab logo, and on the rear of the box was some safety advice and information regarding the contents. I thought that this was a good idea to highlight safety points prior to even opening the box, so as a parent you can gain an understanding of what is involved and it also acts as a reminder to keep the contents out of reach of younger children.

On opening the box, we found it laid out nicely with each experiment individually wrapped and enclosed within a paper bag. There were five of these in total. In addition to each experiment, there was also some gloves, scissors, safety goggles, a pencil, measuring cylinder, some paper cut outs, chromatography paper and instructions.

I had a read through the booklet, and was very pleased with its striking, child friendly design, which continued throughout the whole manual. The first two pages are dedicated to safety information, so it is important to have a good read through these first, and make a point of highlighting any necessary points to your child. There is also a useful piece offering advice for the supervising adults and another section offering first aid advice should it be required. I was glad to find that this safety information is right at the beginning of the booklet, as no experiment should be carried out without proper precautions being taken, and so this gave me reassurance as a parent, that the company had considered health and safety very carefully.

Next up in the booklet came the experiments. I thought it would be a good idea to have a read through each one first prior to attempting them, much to my daughters annoyance who simply wanted to get stuck in. However, I have no scientific knowledge at all, and so I wanted to make sure I had some idea of what was involved prior to getting everything set up. 

In addition to this, we both sat down and watched some YouTube videos that had been sent to use via an email link from Letterbox Lab. These videos showed us exactly what to do, and gave us a great understanding of what to expect. 

Each experiment provides a full list of what you will need from the bag, and so this also acts as a check list to make sure you have everything ready before starting. It provides additional questions for your children to answer whilst conducting their tests, and encourages a child to think and develop a good understanding of what they have just experienced. None of the experiments are simply do this and your done, they actually encourage you to test your knowledge further and provide suggestions on how you could also vary the experiment.

The booklet is bright and captures a childs attention, engaging their interest right from the beginning. The text is easy to read and follow, and the handy "messiness guide" located on the top of each page is very useful for supervising adults.

Once I felt confident in what I was doing, Emma began to unpack the first experiment and get everything set up in place. We decided to work our way through the booklet in order and so we began with the Incredible Inks experiment. This involved combining water with salt in the two bottles which were provided. Emma then drew a black line across some chromatography paper about 2cm from the bottom using a felt tip pen. She then placed some of the salt water into a petri dish, before beginning to dip the end of the paper into the water.

As the water began to rise up the paper, the black line began to get larger. As the line increased in size, several other colours also began to appear. My daughter was shocked by this, as you just assume that black ink is exactly that, and we both had no idea that there were hidden invisible inks within it too. After leaving this a short while we were left with 4 different colours on the paper. 

We repeated this experiment a few more times using the different coloured pens which were provided. These others revealed a couple of other colours, but our favourite was definitely the black as the invisible inks became very visible and looked quite striking on the paper.

Although this was only our first experiment from the box, we both really enjoyed it. It had given us something fun to do together, and not only that but we were also BOTH learning not just Emma.

We then tried the next part of the experiment where you place a sweet into the water and watch what happens. The salt water removes all the dye from the sweet, and when you then place another piece of chromatography paper into the water, you can see the dyes begin to move up it.

As I mentioned previously the booklet encourages you to take your science further and so after this experiment it suggested cutting out a shape bigger than the petri dish. We chose to do a triangle. You then draw some patterns on to the paper and placed the paper on top of the dish. We then added a drop of salt water onto the top using a pipette. This then turned the design into what looked like a tie dye print and my daughter was very impressed.

The next experiment we tried was Rainbow Glasses, this involved colouring in one side of the glasses and then sticking some diffraction grating onto the reverse using the items provided. After the first experiment, my son also began to express an interest in joining in and so he decided to attempt this one by himself. Once he had followed the instructions carefully and completed his glasses, he popped them on and looked at the light. Ben was very surprised to see numerous colours despite looking at what seemed like a single colour of white.

We learnt that diffraction grating is a material containing numerous tiny grooves, and these grooves make different coloured light shoot off an different directions. These colours are then all mixed up in white light and travel in the same direction towards your eyes when looking at the light normally however, with the glasses you begin to see the colours as tiny rainbows. This was a learning experience for all of us, as I had never even heard of diffraction grating until this point.

After this we tried the Rainbow Spinners. This involved getting a little bit crafty and using scissors to cut out the cardboard discs provided. Ben then made a small hole in each of the discs and placed the first coloured disc over the top of the spinner. 

Following along with the theme of colours, we found that when the coloured disc spun, it actually created white, which was the opposite of the previous experiment. This really confused us, but we learnt from reading the instructions that this is because the spinner bounced back the coloured light. These coloured lights mixed with the reflective light created white when it was spun. Well you learn something new every day!

Experiment number 4 was the one that we had all been looking forward to, and involved creating a Liquid Rainbow. This had a grading of level 3 for messiness and so we carried out this experiment in the box. We followed the instructions carefully, which involved combining sugar with food colourings in 4 separate bottles. We then added water to each of the bottles using the pipette and placed the lids back on the bottles before shaking them for around 30 seconds. This then gave us 4 different coloured liquids.

We then carefully reopened the bottles, and using the measuring cylinder and the pipette Emma carefully placed the liquids on top of one another. This created a mini rainbow in the cylinder, and we couldn't understand why the different colours weren't mixing together. The booklet helped to explain this though and we discovered that by dissolving something in the liquids we changed the way that they behave. This was fascinating!

Next up, was another one we had both been looking forward to, the Brilliant Breathless Balloon. This one was so much fun, and really easy to do as well. Emma began by putting on her gloves and safety goggles, before pouring half of the bicarbonate of soda into the big bottle. We then half filled the bottle with water and put the lid back on before shaking the bottle for 30 seconds. Emma then poured about half of the citric acid into the balloon, and carefully stretched the balloon over the neck of the bottle.

As she then lifted the balloon up so that the citric acid mixed with the bicarbonate of soda and water, there was a reaction that caused the water to start fizzing and in turn created a gas which then blew up the balloon.

It did make some noise and we stepped back thinking that the balloon was going to explode, but much to our relief it didn't. The great thing about this is that there was enough citric acid and bicarbonate of soda provided to do this experiment twice!

Lastly was Squirmy Worms, this was one that Emma was looking forward to, and Ben seemed keen too and so we decided to do this one altogether. We began by filling half a cup with water and adding the sodium alginate which was provided. We then had to stir it quickly until the powder was dissolved. We then had to leave it to stand for an hour, which Emma claimed was the longest hour ever! Once an hour had passed we filled a bowl with water and poured in the calcium lactate and stirred with another spoon until all this powder had dissolved as well.

We then filled a pipette with some of the sodium alginate solution from the cup and squeezed it into the bowl. We did this several times and initially thought that nothing was happening. Emma then placed her gloved hand into the bowl where she discovered Squirmy Worms! Ewwwwww.

By the time we had completed all of the experiments, both Emma and Ben were hooked and keen to learn even more. I personally enjoyed it far more than I ever expected to, and certainly don't remember science being this much fun when I was at school.

The boxes are due for release on the 18th April, however you can currently pre-order the boxes at a special discounted rate of only £7.68 for an Explore box and £21.26 for the Investigate Box. I believe that these prices offer extremely good value for money, as they have provided us all with a learning experience, equipment and activities to do at home together.

As all of the experiments are individually packaged, we found it easy to put time aside to do an experiment every couple of days, and work at a pace that suited us. There was no need for us to get absolutely everything out and sort out the equipment that was needed for each experiment as this was already done for us. It was simply a case of picking it up when we had the time to do it together which worked great. 

We had initially planned to do an experiment each night over the week, however in the end we completed the box in around 10 days. This took us longer than originally anticipated, because as my son became interested we did some of the experiments twice, such as The Breathless Balloon.

Overall, my family and I cannot recommend this subscription box enough. This isn't only because of the actual product and the fun we have encountered, but also because of the people behind the product. The customer service we have experienced has been second to none, and any emails I have sent with a query or question has been replied to with both enthusiasm and knowledge. 

Dr Bryan Hatton and Mia Hatton clearly have a strong passion for science, and are keen for children to enjoy what Letterbox Lab can offer. Their knowledge and business skills have allowed them to create a fun packed science subscription box, that offers something for the whole family to enjoy and learn from. We have been very impressed with Letterbox Lab and if you would like to find out more then please visit their website or social media which can all be found here:

Website: Letterbox Lab
YouTube Channel: Letterbox Lab
Twitter: @LetterboxLab
Instagram: @LetterboxLab

Disclaimer: We were provided with a complimentary Investigate Box for the purpose of providing honest and impartial feedback. All opinions and photographs are my own.


  1. Ohh! This is a new subscription box to me...What a wonderful idea. It looks a fab way to get kids interested in science. They look like great value for money. I will look out for these! :D x

    1. Hi Kim, thanks for taking the time to comment. We have tried a few subscription boxes before, but this one gave the kids hours of entertainment and so it was really great value. I had also only expected it to be for my daughter, but it ended up being something that the whole family could get involved with. Hope you have had a lovely weekend xx

  2. The name of the brand immediately caught my attention, and so I looked a little further into what the company offered.